September 9, 2009
Obama's Wasted YearBy Christopher Chantrill
It's about a year since Barack Obama has been at the center of US national politics, but it's probably not too early to say that his first year was wasted.
It is also probably too harsh to blame the president for all of the waste. He heads a party that last did something serious in the civil rights era of the 1960s. It's hard, even for the best of leaders, to kick free of the bad influence of your peers.
We all know how it all went wrong.
When Lehman Brothers failed on September 15, 2008, the global financial markets seized up and the stock markets, barometer of the future earnings of the world's enterprises, went south too. At that point, any prudent campaign organization would have said to itself: all bets are off. We'd better start contingency planning for a completely different presidency. By January 20th, Inauguration Day, it was clear that the entire world was in the middle of the most serious financial and economic crisis since the Great Depression. President Obama and his team could have junked their game plan and started over. They could have told us that all the goodies they promised us, the health care and the green jobs, would have to wait.
The response of the Obama administration to the economic crisis will go down as one of the biggest blunders in US history.
In his inaugural speech the president decided to stay the course, acting as if the national larder were full instead of empty.
The president encouraged the Congress to pass a huge "stimulus" bill that was, in fact, a bailout for the state and local governments, i.e., state and local government jobs.
The immediate emergence of the Tea Party movement in February told us that something was wrong. Everybody who was anybody sneered at the grass-roots consternation of the American people.
They are not sneering any more.
As it happens, the American people are right. All the bailouts and deficits are just digging a bigger hole. Only one bailout was necessary, the bailout to unfreeze the frozen credit markets and put the banks back above water.
Since February the Obama administration has attempted two more blunders, the cap-and-tax bill, presently hidden away in the US Senate, and the three ring circus of the president's health reform, presently on life support.
Has there ever been a more reckless squandering of political capital in US history?
The irony of the situation is that the failure of its initiatives is probably going to be the one thing that saves the Obama administration. If cap-and-tax fails, and the health reform is reduced to minor tinkering, then 2010 may turn into the year that Congress looks at ending the Bush tax cuts and blinks. With taxes low and new spending shelved, in spite of the president and his liberal Congress, the economy might eke out a decent recovery in 2011 and 2012 and reelect President Obama.
It is telling that the center of resistance to the president's agenda seems to be coming not from the established conservative movement but from some more amorphous, Middle American place. Maybe that's not surprising. When the welfare state crashes and burns it will not necessarily be "women and minorities hardest hit." No, it will be ordinary Americans that will be hardest hit. Liberals and their clients will do fine, protected in their lifetime government sinecures and benefits. Conservatives will do fine, because they never trusted government, and made other arrangements for their security. It will be the moderates, who vote one year for Republican tax cuts and another year for Democratic spending, that will be devastated by the wreck of the liberal spending programs.
So it makes sense that they are the ones instinctively reacting in nervous opposition to the president's huge spending plans.
Some people believe that the president has persisted in his folly because he is an unrepentant leftist. The truth is probably more prosaic. The problem is that the president and his advisers seem to be unable to see round corners or think several moves ahead. They have kept on with their original game plan because they lack the experience and the confidence to change it.
It makes you wonder what would have happened after 9/11 if President Bush hadn't been served as governor of Texas and received his baptism of failure in the oil and gas business. Or if Vice-President Cheney hadn't brought to the team his unrivaled lifetime of experience in government service.
But President Obama is the only president we've got. We must hope that he finds the wisdom and the strength to start over.
The nation can't afford another wasted year.